The power of the boutique photography agency
Today we met with David Chapuis, the founder of DCA Management. Having grown up in both Cameroon and France, his vast cultural experiences have afforded him a unique take on photography. His first job as a studio assistant gradually lead him to the business side of the industry – working within agencies. After many years building up experience in various agencies and leading fashion houses such as Armani, he launched DCA management in 2014 with a set of talented artists. Here to speak about the agency is a conversation with the founder, David Chapuis.
Where does the name DCA Management come from?
Well I wanted something short, effective and easy to remember. It’s also easy to translate between English and French, which is important with all the English clients we work with. It’s also pretty ambiguous – it can stand for my name or nothing at all. It’s not as pretentious as using my own name.
Basically, it’s easy to remember, say, and I can come up with an explanation if someone asks!
What were the biggest difficulties DCA Management had starting out?
Starting as an agent, it’s really important to build a good network from the very start. It’s basically impossible to work without a solid network. Going out on your own is risky because you can’t just ring someone up and say ‘hey it’s David, let’s do business’. When you're working with your first clients it's also a time of a lot of highs and lows and you’re quite sensitive to feedback. At first, I was taking everything personally. When we succeeded, I was ecstatic but when times weren’t so great, I was depressed. That can be pretty draining! But, having said that, it’s all pretty rewarding when it all comes together eventually. Luckily there are a lot of potential clients in Paris, so there’s a fair amount of business, even for a new agency such as ours in 2014.
How does your agency differentiate itself from others?
The agency acts more like a boutique as we represent five photographers and are only looking to take on around two more. That works better for me because I like to have a close relationship with my photographers. Each photographer works in a unique way, has their own style, and so it’s advantageous to be small and know your artists well. For example, if a specific project comes up, I need to use the right photographer for the job and so I need to know them, how they work, and their kind of work – in order to best help the client. So how DCA differentiates itself is that we aren't some big multinational based in Paris. It’s a smaller agency with a specialized focus.
How has social media affected your work? Has this impact been positive or negative?
I would say both positive and negative.
For photography, the most important social media platform is obviously Instagram. It’s sort of expanded the already huge revolution from print to digital – something which totally changed the game, altering all the business rules. The client can now see pictures right away and can get a lot of content all in one go. The platform has changed the way photographers operate as well. For example, I can now talk to clients to suggest a new photographer and they already know photographers from Instagram – which affects the way in which we promote new talent and attract new clients.
It’s also brought down the price for creative services. Right from models to photographers, the greater choice and accessibility means that the price for jobs is less.
But what social media does cause is a constant hunger for more content, but this content, because of the platform interface, can’t capture the true uniqueness and quality of professional images.
What do you look for when you take on a photographer?
Personally, I need to understand their work, which is different to appreciating it for the sake of appreciating a good picture. Also, with regards to experience, there needs to be an opportunity to bring on new clients, for example, if they’re already a well-known name in the industry then I won’t be able to bring them any new clients – they already have their client lists. It may be good for the agency but in terms of growth, but there’s little scope for improvement.
It’s also important for them to have a real print book, for me it’s okay if they don’t but when we go and present to clients then they need to have a book to show.
They also need to have the passion to fight and be enthusiastic, no matter what comes their way. Also, just for the sake of business, it’s important for them to be based in Europe. Unless they’re a huge name, clients are reluctant to fly photographers across the world to work on projects.
What has been one of your agency’s most exciting projects to work on?
We’ve had a lot of interesting exhibitions this year, which is great for our photographers. In terms of projects, though, we worked with Neymar recently on an add campaign. But excitement depends on what you like, and this is different for everyone.
What would be your dream project to work on?
For my photographers, becoming a Condé Nast photographer is a very high accolade and it makes me very proud when one of my photographers achieves this. Although having worked with Armani in the past, I would love to work with them in the future. It would also be great to have my own photography bookstore.
Advice for up-and-coming photographers?
Don’t do it because you want to be a star – do it because you love photography. Photography is a difficult career, you need to constantly fight, study, and grow.